Friday, July 29, 2016

Bon Echo's Hidden Gems

When we visited Bon Echo Provincial Park last year we did the typical things a family might do including: playing at the beach, watching the sun come up over Mazinaw Rock, hiking the Clifftop Trail, visiting the Visitor Centre and taking in some of the programs offered. It was great and we all loved it. 

This year we wanted to add some variety to the trip so we thought we'd explore some of the lesser known parts of the parks.

We were visiting for three days and had hoped to do the Kishkebus Canoe Route on our full day. Just before leaving the house we noticed that there was a chance of thunderstorms on our second day so we modified our plan to do the canoe route on our first day.

We arrived at the park and were registered by 11:00. We unpacked the canoe, the kids, some water and snacks and headed out. It was a gorgeous day with very light winds which made for an easy paddle to the portage into Kishkebus Lake. We paddled along the rock and admired it's utter size and the amazing pictograph located along the water. Even though we've paddled here before, it hard not to be struck by the shear magnitude of this rock. If you visit the park make sure you take an opportunity to paddle the base of the rock. You won't be disappointed.

Paddling Along Mazinaw Rock
We had lunch on the water just before starting the portage into Kishkebus Lake. The portage is 1.5km in length. There are a couple of ups and downs but overall it's not a bad portage (though I'm a little out of practice). I actually walked the portage three times: once with the family to give our youngest member a ride should she need it (She did take a ride a couple of times but it was very brief.), once to get back to the start and once with the canoe. Our three year old daughter did a great job. She could totally do the portage on her own. If we were to do it again we'd do the portage in a single trip, which would speed thing up a great deal.

Finishing the Portage
 Upon completing the portage we were treated to an amazing lake. Lake Kishkebus is only accessible by portage. There are no cottages on it and the only other people we saw were the two canoes that we had seen on the portage. It felt as though we had left the hustle and bustle of Bon Echo Park behind in exchange for a remote northern lake. We loved paddling the lake. We were so busy taking it all in that we forgot to take pictures. I guess we'll have to go back. Since we had started so late we didn't think we had much time for playing on the lake but it looked as though there was a nice sandy beach on south west portion of the lake. We all agreed that we'd have to come back and spend more time here. 

The Put-in at Kishkebus
The portage out of Kishkebus was a quick and easy 60m leading into Shabomeka Lake. Shabomeka Lake is not in the park but was still a nice lake to paddle. There were very few cottages at the north end but as we made our way south we saw a lot more cottages. Since it was Sunday afternoon many of the cottagers were packing up and getting ready to leave. It looked as though there was a large (and very busy) beach on the east side of the lake. The portage out of Shabomeka is 40m around a small dam. We didn't look to hard for the portage trail. Instead we crossed the road the dam was on and put in on the downstream side. As we paddled down stream we noticed where we were supposed to have ended the portage.

Although the body of water that we portaged into was called Semicircle Lake, it seemed more like a meandering creek at first. The passage was somewhat narrow in spots and there were lots of lily pads but the water was very clear.

Semicircle Lake
Looking for Fish
Not too far into our paddle on Semicircle Lake we came to a large beaver dam. We probably could have found a way around it had we looked, but instead we decided to go over it. Sarah and I got out and lifted the canoe down. The kids enjoyed the ride down and we didn't loose anybody. We estimated the drop to be 40-50cm.  

Looking Back at the Beaver Dam
Shortly after the dam we came to another dam that was entirely submerged. As Sarah got out to pull us over she must have stepped off the pile of sticks because before we knew it she was chest deep in mud. She got back in the boat (we all had a good laugh) and we pushed ourselves over the dam instead. We meandered through the reeds and lily pads until we came to the open part of the lake. Though not large, the lake itself was peaceful and clear.

Open Portion of Semicircle Lake
The map shows a 40m portage from Semicircle Lake to Campbell Creek but as we approached the creek it appeared as though we might be able to bypass the portage. The portage was a small bridge over the creek. We figured we could just paddle under the bridge, which is exactly what we did.

Small Bridge Over Campbell Creek
The paddle through Campbell Creek was nice. Again the water was very clear and we spotted a number of fish. A large fish even broke the surface close by and startled many of us. The short paddle along the creek led us to another beaver dam before dumping into Mazinaw Lake. There's a short portage around the beaver dam, but we chose to go over the dam instead. This one was quite a bit higher than the previous one but we managed just fine. 

The paddle up Mazinaw Lake was long, but luckily the wind was at our backs. We stopped at the day use beach for a quick swim to cool off. This was a fantastic canoe route. It's a great day trip and a fairly safe way to see if you like canoe tripping. That being said it is a pretty full day. The group of inexperienced trippers we came across likely took in the neighbourhood of eight hours to complete the loop. The most challenging portion is the 1.5km portage, but if you take your time and rest as needed, it's totally doable. The downside to the route is that once you complete the portage you're committed to finishing the loop unless you want to do the portage again.

The next day we were hoping to do some hiking on the Abes and Essens trail but we were all pretty tired. We slept in then had a leisurely pancake breakfast. We hung around our site relaxing, reading, writing and napping. After lunch we headed for the beach and spent the rest of the afternoon there.

On our final day we packed up and decided to paddle Bon Echo Lake. We headed down the road past the cabins and discovered a dock with some parking nearby. When we arrived we saw another beautiful, wilderness lake. We were the only ones there. While we got things ready the kids hopped into the canoe and were ready to go. They decided where they would sit and where we would sit.

Kids Ready to Go
Once we rounded the corner of the bay with the dock the wind was strong and blowing right down the lake at us. 
Bon Echo Lake
Keeping Us on Track in a Strong Wind
We paddled to the western edge of the lake and found a marshy area. There was a small path through the marsh that we attempted to follow, but we didn't get far. 

After exploring a bit we turned around and had the wind at our backs. Some of us decided we didn't need to paddle on the way back. Paddling Bon Echo Lake was great. There was nobody on the lake and despite the fact that the cabins are close to the lake we didn't see them or their occupants. There's something quite special about being the only ones on a lake.

Who's Steering This Boat?
After paddling we headed for the day use beach where we spent the remainder of the afternoon.

Bon Echo is a fantastic park with lots to do. On this trip we really enjoyed getting off the beaten path and exploring some of the lesser known and less frequently visited portions of the park. We will certainly be back to spend more time in these more remote sections of the park.

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